Alfred Place Baptist Church

Preaching: 3 The Message

Having begun with ‘The Man’ we now turn to ‘The Message,’ and it’s the message that concerned Christians long to hear everywhere today. I had been in the ministry a couple of years and was preaching in a Bible Rally on a holiday Monday in Stow in the Wold, about sixty miles from London I guess, when I spotted entering the school hall for the evening meeting Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones and his wife. It was enormously intimidating. He had been my role model for a decade. He would, as it were, be there as I preached, and I thought I could detect when he would be enjoying my preaching and when he wouldn’t be! On that particular Bible Rally I had preached in the afternoon on Lot lingering outside Sodom, and in the evening I was to preach on “Remember Lot’s wife.” That was the sermon Lloyd-Jones was going to hear. In both cases I was indebted to the relevant chapters in Ryle’s ‘Holiness’ and the Doctor’s arrival made me embarrassed about that. I thought of other sermons I had left at home which I believe would have been less plagiaristic and also might have been more his type of preaching, but I had no alternative and Bishop Ryle alone was with me in the pulpit that day. I was certainly pleased that I wasn’t preaching a message heavily dependent upon an actual Lloyd-Jones’ sermon, though that would not have been impossible. I have no idea to this day what he made of my sermon, just remembering that afterwards as he was leaving he introduced me to his wife Bethan. But having to preach with him sitting in the congregation had unnerved me and I couldn’t relax. It had been a strain and so I felt I had been too strident.
My point is this: Dr Lloyd-Jones had come there to hear the Message, that is, he wanted to find out whether I was gripped by the real message of the Word of God. Might I be one of those preachers who could bring that message to the next generation? He was nearing retirement and he knew a little bit about me and he had come to hear me, as he came to hear other Welsh boys like me, because he longed that there would be a generation raised in Great Britain of men with the message, because that was the paramount need of the hour. Was it the ‘big message’ and would there be something heavenly and of divine authentication in my preaching? He sought such men out and encouraged them, and many made him their friend and counsellor. So when men he knew, or even family members, were enthusiastic to him about a new preacher he would go out of his way to hear the man for himself. Could that one be gripped by the revealed message and be preaching it with the unction it merited? That concern which brought him out on a Monday – after a Sunday’s preaching – to listen in hope to someone like me was part of his wonderful attractiveness to many of us and why he had become and remains my principal role model. Today I find myself, like him, listening with hope to the next generation to see if God has raised up others consumed by the message.

Our vocation is to establish such a testimony throughout the whole world. We are praying for the Word of God to be heard from ten thousand pulpits. “You are the light of the world,” the Lord said to a group of young men who had never preached a sermon, who were untried and inexperienced, who must have glanced at one another with amazement as they heard him direct those words to them. But he knew what he was saying and to whom he was speaking, whatever their response might have been: their testimony is the light for the world.

Our message is light for all the nations of the world. There is a great promise rooted in the Old Testament and it defines the scope of our mission and it should fill us with tremendous confidence. God promised Abraham that through his seed the nations of the whole earth were going to be blessed. And when the Messiah, the Son of Abraham, came then the time had arrived for the light to dawn. The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light. Jesus told them, “Now go and take my gospel into all the world.” The Lord has given to us a message which cannot but succeed, assuredly, effectually and infallibly. There is no doubt about that at all. All the nations of the world are going to be blessed. People are going to come from north and south, east and west and they are going to fall before the throne of God and sing the song of the Lamb. The message can no more fail that the blood of the new covenant itself, and we must keep that confidence constantly before us, because congregations can fall into ruts of despondency and preachers lie on the floor of despair.

But ours is a message of hope. The gospel is good news for all the nations, or as the ancient Markan ending phrases it, “for every creature.” In other words, we can go to every human being and say to him, “I have good news for you,” good news individually and personally. As we look down from the pulpit on our congregations we must think to ourselves, “Today I have good news for everybody here.” We may have no doubt about it at all. People who listen to us aren’t permitted to protest, ‘But I am not a religious person.’ “Whoever you are, whatever condition you are in, to every single individual, there is good news. If you are Bunyan’s man in the iron cage, despairing because the day of grace is past there is good news for you. Or if you are a man who thinks he has sinned the unforgivable sin, there is good news for you in this great word of God.”

Our message centres upon God: “the Lord – He is God: Jehovah – he is God.” I think we overlook the glory of that. We take the great fact of God’s existence for granted, and we imagine that it has no religious importance. Yet is it the greatest single piece of news a person can hear – “Jehovah – he is God.” This world does not come out of nothing, not does it exist in nothing, but God made it, and he holds it, and he has a purpose for it. It is not a world in the hand of chaos, but a world in the hand of God. It is not a world in the hand of chance, nor of cosmic malice. It is a world in the hand of God, even with all its sadness and sorrow. It is gripped by God today with a love that will not let it go.

Know this – that Jehovah, he is the God, and that is good news, and it is good news for everyone of you. Remember John ‘Rabbi’ Duncan, the great missionary to the Jews and a Hebrew teacher, a man who had spent years in the depths of atheistic despair. One day God showed him his grace. He said, “I first saw clearly the existence of God in walking along the bridge at Aberdeen; it was so great a discovery to me; I stopped and stood in an ecstasy of joy at seeing the existence of God.” He told another friend, “When I was convinced that there was a God, I danced on the Brig o’ dee with delight” (Moody Stuart. “The Life of John Duncan,” Banner of Truth, 1991, p.18).

That is where the good news begins, that God was and God is and God will be, and that this world is in the hand of a divine, benevolent, wise, loving, gracious ruler. This life of mine has its meaning, and when I attend an internment in a cemetery I can stand over the open grave and know that that decaying corpse is not the meaning of life. No! That is not life’s meaning. It is not reducible to that. For our lives are hid with Christ in God, and as it is in God it does have meaning. It has the meaning of his grace and the meaning of his love. Our message is a message of God. You know that Dr David Wells of Gordon Seminary has a friend who is a believing theologian, but he sighs to David saying, “As I go to church I never hear sermons about God.” And that is a terrible indictment about modern preaching that its whole focus has become horizontal, and seeker-friendly. Here is the most fascinating subject of all, the being of God, and we are ignoring that – to speak about what? Ours is a divine message.

Now you would think that there is no confusion at all as to what the content of our message is. Yet if I had asked you to write down your own answer to the question, “What is the gospel?” how many different replies would I have got to the question? Let me clear away some misunderstandings.

1] The message is not that God is to be found in the wonders of the heavens and the earth. “Look around you,” say the siren voices, “and stand in awe of the vastness of the universe, and the beauties of the world. That whole, that mighty all-embracing world-process is God. Look within! Search for the hero inside yourself and you will find God.” Who does not appreciate the appeal of such a view? Our generation has been inspired by it, but, as Dr Machen once said, “that message contains no comfort whatever for oppressed and burdened souls. If God be another name for the totality of things, then when we possess him we possess nothing that we didn’t have before. There’s no appeal from the creatures of this world to He who is its gracious Creator.” The hero inside ourselves has proved too weak for old Adam on too many previous occasions. If dead orthodoxy has killed its thousands this New Age message has killed its tens of thousands.

2] The message is not “Let us follow the example of Jesus.” The first question is not, “What would Jesus do?” Of course if a man really lived the life of Jesus all would be well. But such a man would not be a Christian, but something far better than a Christian. He would be a being who had never lost his high estate of sonship with God. The trouble is that our lives aren’t like Christ’s. We are sinners and the example of Jesus is a part of the proclamation of that terrible law of God which is the schoolmaster to bring men to God. It is bad news for me to realise that once, but once only, this world witnessed a man as holy as God is holy, a man in whom the Holy One was well-pleased. God did not stumble across this man. He had always been God’s delight, and God sent him to this world. The example of Christ serves by its lofty purity to produce a consciousness of sin. There is no good news in the knowledge that he is holy and I am not.

3] The good news is not that men must be converted. Luther once said that there was no more terrible word in all the Bible than ‘conversion.’ You may find that strange, but it only takes a moment’s reflection to confirm its truth. For men enjoying their lives without God, and in whose hearts there is an antipathy to all things that are truly divine, there can be nothing more undesirable, disagreeable and unnecessary to flesh and blood than what is conveyed in the word ‘conversion.’ That is why the world makes so many jokes about Christian conversion. It is nervous laughter.

The old Dutch minister, Gerard Wisse (1873 – 1957), tells us, “I recall how I once spoke earnestly with an unconverted man concerning the state of his soul, and told him that God was able to triumph over him, and cause him to say farewell to his bosom sins in order to seek for his life in the things of God’s kingdom. The miserable man answered me honestly, ‘No, Reverend, I truly hope that God will not do so.’ Luther was right – conversion is a terrible word” (Gerard Wisse, “Godly Sorrow,” Free Reformed Publications, 1998, p.62). So all those exhortations to believe and to repent and be born again and be saved – where in the world is ‘good news’ to a sinner in commands such as those?

What, then, is the message? Two things:-

1. It is the Gospel of God’s Grace.

Think of those parting words of Paul to the Ephesian elders. His great concern, he tells them, was this, that “I may finish the race, and complete the task the Lord Jesus Christ has given me of testifying to the gospel of God’s grace” (Acts 20:24). How do we testify to the theology of grace? (Here I am indebted to Principal MacLeod) By telling men that

i] Grace has a purpose. It has a specific and particular end in view:- “He did predestinate us to be conformed to the image of his Son.” If we begin at that relatively modest goal it takes our breath away. Grace is God’s determination to make favoured sinners Christ-like. Grace is not content with justification, or adoption, or union with Christ. Grace is concerned to make people like God. Grace is not going to rest until all it embraces are a transcript of the Lord Christ himself. God so loves his Son that he will fill heaven with an innumerable company of people each one of whom, morally and spiritually, are in the image of Christ, and all the divine energy and creativity are committed to that end. All his resources are to serve that great enterprise. “When we see him we shall be like him.” “That he might present the church to himself, a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that it should be holy and without blemish.” That is the destination of grace.

Or we can expand the purpose further, that grace willl make Christ the first-born among many brethren. There is this constituency of the redeemed which does not exist for itself, but to be a family of brethren in which Christ has the pre-eminence. He will be the first-born, and the centre, and the sun. They will all cohere in him. This will be a community of joy and praise because from eternity God has purposed to fill the heaven of heavens with the sound of the praise of the Lamb, like the sound of many waters. “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain ….” “Unto him that hath loved us and washed us from our sins in his own blood…”

Or beyond that, God’s purpose can be expanded further: he will regenerate the whole heavens and the earth. He will make a new universe which shall be, in all its glory and beauty, the inheritance of the Son of Man and all the children which God has given to him. The whole cosmic environment comprehending the distant stars, or the blades of grace, the solar system or the sands on the seashore, the beasts of the field or the atoms and molecules will be redolent with the righteousness of Christ. God will gather together all things in Christ. There will be a reconciliation of everything in the universe joined to that single hub. Grace has that great end in view.

ii] Grace is invincible. God has made an eternal commitment. He has set his mind upon saving a company of people more than any man can number. He has donated every one of them to his Son to have and to hold for ever. His whole heart is in it. “I shall be their God,” he has said. His omnipotence is committed to save them. He has enlisted every divine attribute, and prerogative, and function to this end. The Father is committed. The Son is committed. The Holy Spirit is committed. The angels, principalities, powers, things present, things to come, height, depth, every other creature has that end in view. That is the goal of the incarnation – that is reason there dwelt in Christ all the fulness of the Godhead bodily.

Grace is invincible because it is the strength of God. It is not sentiment, though songs about it may be. It is not feeling, though it creates the most powerful feelings. Grace is power acting to redeem. The old persecutor from Tarsus became what he became by the grace of God. When his thorn in the flesh almost destroyed him it was Christ’s grace that was sufficient for him and his future life. That mighty grace can change every circumstance, strengthen every weakness, cheer every distress, lift every burden, enable us to climb every mountain, carry every load, handle every responsibility.

Grace is super-abundant. If we make the claim that our lives have been touched by grace we are saying that we are being preserved by the might of the Maker of the heavens and the earth. The grace of the one who raises the dead has a grip on us. So all our hope of keeping on and on and on, going on trusting, and repenting, and believing, and persevering, and entering heaven and receiving a resurrection body depends upon the power of God alone.

Grace is invincible because Christ has ultimate authority in the whole universe. The Lamb sits in the midst of the throne, not as a spectator. He exercises real power. His session there is not only eloquent to us of his centrality in the cosmos and the blessedness of the position he now occupies but it is eloquent of his unchallengeable supremacy. That Lamb who loved the church and gave himself for it today wears a crown. He is head over all things to the church. He has supreme power over every force in the cosmos – physical, intellectual, spiritual – all must obey his command. If you can conceive it, it is under his command. If you can think it then Christ is in control of it. Grace is invincible because Christ is unchallengeable. Should all the hosts of hell gang against him they must miserably fail because he has already triumphed over them at his weakest. Now that he has a name above every name how can he fail? What is utterly beyond human comprehension is ruled over in its every movement by the supremacy of the enthroned Lamb. Christ has taken the church in the grip of grace and is leading it through the darkness and the valleys to its blessed rest. The message of grace is that the divine pity is invincible and is enfleshed in the Man in glory.

iii] Grace is sovereign. God’s determination to save sinners is entirely a matter of his own initiative. It is reduced by the apostle Paul to one marvellous statement as he reminisces about his own conversion – “When God was pleased” he says (Gals. 1:15), then Paul was saved. Grace is utterly discretionary – consider the title of Shedd’s sermon on the text, “I will have mercy upon whom I will have mercy”. Shedd calls it, “The Exercise of Mercy Optional with God” (W.G.T.Shedd, “Sermons to the Natural Man,” Banner of Truth, p.358ff). No saviour was commissioned to the angels that rebelled: God simply dealt with them in utter fairness. God has no obligation to save a single sinner. You would think today, hearing some men, that the most obvious and predictable characteristic of God was his mercy, that he should love the world and spare not his Son. In the New Testament the forgiveness of God is a mystery. It is a supreme paradox. In vain the first-born seraph tries to sound the depth of love divine. That is because grace is optional. It is rooted into God’s sovereign good pleasure.

It is utterly unconditional, that is, it is not evoked by any qualities in us at all. It is not because of perceived beauty, or righteousness, or attractiveness that constrained the pity of God. He did not look and see a decent life and so focused his salvation on that one. Salvation comes forth utterly and entirely out of God’s own unconditional love. So the message of God’s grace declares that always it is objective, and invincible and sovereign.

iv] Grace redeems. Think of John Murray’s classic, “Redemption Accomplished and Applied” (Banner of Truth). Whether by Christ or by the Holy Spirit, for us or in us, past accomplishment in the finished work or present reality in the ongoing work – it is all of grace, from beginning to end, from the alpha to the omega.

In the accomplishment of redemption it was God who conceived the possibility. He thought of it. It dawned on him, we would say. He then took the initiative. He had not created the quarrel, nor forged the enmity, nor set up the estrangement, but in effecting reconciliation he acts. He draws the blue-print in its every detail. It was not that his intervention is constrained by the pleading of man. No counsel of the most holy men in the world gathering together laid out this plan before him and urged him to act upon it. Prior to any human initiative or sense of need God alone set up this tremendous machinery of redemption.

God provided the instrumentality. He found a Lamb in his own flock, even from his own bosom, bearing his own image. He even became that Lamb: the providing God is not a different being from the provided Lamb. The God who said that without the shedding of blood there could be no remission himself provided the blood that should be shed: “Feed the church of God which he purchased with his own blood.”

That same grace made him who knew no sin to become sin for us. That same grace paid him the wages of sin. It was all of God. We did not make Christ our substitute – that was God. We did not offer him upon Calvary – that was God. We did not give our son to the death of the cross – that was God. He aroused the sword of rectitude and commanded it to find its sheath in Christ’s breast. We did not go through our sins one after another trying to think of them all placing them carefully upon him – the Lord laid on him the iniquity of us all. The accomplishment of redemption was all of God. The great theme in the letter to the Hebrews is that Christ was all by himself when he purged us of our sins.

But also in the application of redemption it is the same divine grace which saves us. God embarks upon a ministry of reconciliation. God becomes the preacher of his own gospel. Men are “ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us” (2 Cors. 5). Paul was conscious that behind all his speaking there was the authority of God. Behind Paul’s imploring there was a yearning God, longing and pleading with men – the one who in the days of his flesh saw the city and wept over it.

We might think that that would be the conclusion of God’s application but the audience hearing of the finished work of Christ are deaf and blind and hostile. The hearts of the hearers are closed to the message. What happens? Grace acts again, and the one who preaches to the heart opens the heart. On the road to Emmaus the one who opened the Scriptures also opened the understanding. Lydia heeds the message of Paul for this reason – the Lord Jesus opened her heart to receive it. He gave her a birth from above. He resurrected her. He made everything new. He gave her the conviction that this message was true. He revealed to her the beauty of Jesus. He created in her heart a desire for him. He made sin loathsome. To what does Paul ascribe the success of the gospel in Thessalonica? That “our gospel came not to you in word only, but in power and in the Holy Ghost and with much assurance.”

So firstly our message is a message of grace, and whenever it is preached the Lord is delighted and our experience will be that of the apostles: “So Paul and Barnabas spent considerable time there, speaking boldly for the Lord, who confirmed the message of his grace” (Acts 14:3). Thus it has ever been in the history of the church – think of Geneva, and Edwards, and Whitefield, and Princeton, and Spurgeon, and Lloyd-Jones.

2. The Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.

We are informed that Philip told the Ethiopian “the good news about Jesus” (Acts 8:35). It is his gospel; it is all about him. He is its source and theme. The good news is Jesus Christ, in the glory of his person and the perfection of his finished work. And he is for every sinner. I can go to any person and I can say to them, “I have a Saviour for you.” And if I don’t continually use those precise words like some mantra nevertheless that precise conviction is part of my theological universe. I believe that I have a Teacher who will overcome your ignorance. I have a great Priest who will speak on your behalf to God. I have a Lord who will protect and keep you, and he is for you. I can use the language of the Marrow men without any reservation. I am not using the preposition ‘for’ there in the sense of substitution but in the sense of offer. Christ’s teaching – for you. Christ dead – for you. Christ reigning – for you. Christ interceding – for you, that is, for you to receive, to have and to hold in this world and the next, to know his protection and be educated by him.

One Christ: – of course in three offices, of course in two natures, and of course in three states – but still one Christ. One Christ – of course one in being and substance with the Father and the Spirit – the triune God. But one indivisible Christ who is a powerful King, an instructing Prophet and a serving Saviour. You cannot separate him when you offer him to sinners. Think of a computer, and [i] the power of its motor, and [ii] the instructions of its screen, and [iii] all the services that it provides you – e-mail, wake-up calls, diary, spread sheets, the net. Could you go into a computer store and say that you want a computer which only does the services – without the power-box and without the screen? The assistant would say to you that that was impossible, that the box and the modem and the services provided are all one, and you cannot have the one without the others too. He would say to you that what you would like is impossible, for a PC is one.

So it is with Christ, the gospel is that the sovereign Lord who directs and protects, is also the great Prophet who teaches and enlightens, and also the High Priest whose blood de-sins and whose righteousness wraps us about safe and sound for time and eternity. This one Saviour is freely offered to all. He is one God and Surety and by himself he has fulfilled all those three offices for every one of his people. “The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve…” he said, and in all these ways he serves his people. God doesn’t do half a job. He does not leave us washed – but lacking his protection. He does not leave us informed – but in our guilt and shame. He does not leave us shepherded – but in the dark. I am saying that we cannot disconnect his offices. You have neit her the wit nor the power to disentangle them, and anyone who tells you he can is deceiving himself and the truth is not in him.

a] I have Prophet Christ who will teach you who you are, who God is, what the good life is, who is your neighbour, what you must do to be saved, how you can inherit eternal life, what lies beyond death. That is the message we have for everyone.

b] I have Priest Christ whose blood cleanses us from all sin, no matter who you are, where you come from, what your reputation has been or the quality of your life. Here is the remedy for every guilty conscience, here is peace for every troubled soul, here is the source of a clean heart.

c] I have King Christ whose Lordship is such that he has put everything under an obligation that if it touches me in any way, as shattering as the crash of a plane or as gentle as a mother’s kiss on the cheek of her sleeping child, he will ensure it must work for my good – the best things that happen to me, and the worst things that affect me.

This complete Christ of the three offices is for you. I am saying that this is our message when God comes by us in the glory of the gospel. God draws near and he makes men an offer. God visits and makes us a proposition. God offers forgiveness. He promises more. He offers us himself: “I will be your God. I will bless you with every spiritual blessing.” And what is unbelief? It is the rejection of that offer.

We can listen to our young people as they look back at us Sunday by Sunday, a glazed look customarily having fallen over their eyes, and then they graciously condescend to discuss with us their position, and they will always describe it in a different way. They will try to give the impression that their position is something rather strong and positive, that they are ‘seeking,’ that they are ‘searching,’ that they are ‘considering,’ that they are approaching this whole matter of the glories of the person and work of Christ from a position of strength, that they are ‘sifting the evidence,’ that they are ‘examining the facts.’

I would say to them that that is not the way it is. The way it is is that they know the facts and they have heard the offer and they refuse to bow the knee and they will not yield the heart. The way it is is that they will not accept the offer God makes. It is not insufficiency of evidence keeping them away from Christ. Their chief need is not more time to think. That is not their problem. Everything hangs upon a commitment they will not make when God says “Come!”. Theirs is an attitude of disobedience and from it come many acts of disobedience.

Most of them are laying down conditions before God and they are saying that they will come when they’ve got the evidence, when they’ve established the foundation, when their hearts are strangely warmed, when their taste for the world is getting jaded, when they are sure God will answer them, when the hairs on the back of their necks stand on end. And to them all God is saying, “Come! Come as you are! Come with your weakness. Come with your mental reservations! Come as an ungodly man!

Let not conscience make you linger,
Nor of fitness fondly dream;
All the fitness he requireth
Is to feel you need of Him:
This he gives you –
‘Tis the Spirit’s rising beam.

Come, ye weary, heavy-laden,
Lost and ruined by the Fall;
If you wait until you’re better,
You will never come at all:
Not the righteous –
Sinners Jesus came to call.

We do not come as those who are absolutely persuaded. We do not come with strong faith. If our faith is as thin as a spider’s thread, as long as it is fixed in Christ alone, it is so infrangible it can take the weakest believer across the bottomless pit and over the lake of fire. “Come with smoking flax faith. Come with bruised reed faith. Come with every single one of your doubts and questions and perplexities. Come with your personality problems. Do not come as someone who has solved all his problems before he comes,” we tell them that plainly. That is our message. We tell them to take Christ now as we offer him to them. Take him! You bow to Christ when he is offered to you. You come to Christ when he invites you to draw near.

Too many of our congregation have some half understanding of the great doctrine of God’s sovereign grace in salvation, and so they are wresting it to their own destruction. I believe in a sovereign God and in sovereign grace, but I believe I am speaking his mind when I say to congregations that he loves weaklings and doubters and ungodly men and women so much that he offers himself to them. That is our message. I believe I am speaking his word when I say to them that he commands and beseeches them to come now to him, and that he is ready to receive them now, and if they come now he will in no wise cast them out, and that if they truly believe in his sovereignty then they must believe in the sovereignty and authority of that.

When favoured sinners hear the gospel they hear it in their shame. They feel that they are so unique in their sin. They are not like anyone else in the congregation. They feel they are personally disqualified because of their hypocrisy and weakness. They are conscious of the aggravation of their own condition. But God is bringing this message to them, that no matter who they are, what they have been or how they have lived, he will never cast out any who come to come. There has never been a single instance of rejection in the history of the world.

Can you imagine the angels looking down from the portals of heaven and they are concentrating just at this moment on the man who is the chief of sinners – the very worst one of all. He has been dormant for years, but he is stirring, and he is turning, and, yes, he is actually coming to Christ – in all his filth, pulling on the chains that tie him to all his past – and, yes, he is coming to the Son of God in the glory of his person and the perfection of his work. He is coming to the one who smote the fig-tree, to the one who called the Pharisees white-washed sepulchres, and King Herod a fox. This blackguard who has committed the very worst sins the angels have ever beheld is coming to the one John saw on the Isle of Patmos before whose feet John fell as one dead. This piece of trash is crawling and limping and staggering to the one before whom the sinless seraphim hide their eyes, and the angels are looking at one another in amazement and they are saying, “No hope for that one! Not a chance! He’s for the pit!” And then they see something far more amazing so that there is utter silence in heaven. They see the Son of God running to that man lest he change his mind, and cutting short his rehearsed apologies, and they see Christ wrapping his arms around him and hugging him and Christ’s hot tears wetting that man’s cheeks, and God rejoicing and saying, “This my son was lost, and is found; he was dead and is alive again.”

There is nothing today more marvellous in the whole universe than that we can stand before a congregation in our frailty and youth and mortality burdened with all our personal inadequacies, facing many who have but the slightest interest even in Christian morality, and our message to every single one of them is that Jehovah God is offering himself to them that moment to be their Saviour and prophet and priest and king and husband and lover and friend for ever and ever. He is sincerely offering every spiritual blessing in heavenly places in Christ Jesus to them.

We only long for them to stop rationalising their unbelief, and cease attempting to justify it. Do they want a warrant to come to Christ? Do they plead their unfitness because they do not have a warrant? Are they searching for a warrant in their own experience? Are they waiting for a verse to jump out at them one day and zap them? Those things may happen, but they are not the warrant for faith. They are looking in the wrong place if they are saying, “Give me an experience and then I can trust.” God says, “I will make you an offer: here is my Son, the divinely appointed prophet, the priest and the king, and he is for you to receive now.” Those who receive him to them he gives the right to become the sons of God. This is an utterly sincere and genuine offer. The Lord is not at the front of the meeting making this offer or we would ask sinners to come to the front to receive him. The Lord is near you, in the message we preach, in your ears, in your conscience, in your heart, in your mouth, that whosoever calleth on the name of the Lord shall be saved. The Holy Spirit takes the message and the offer and he enables you to hear it, and he moves you to receive him. He is being offered now. You accept this offer or you reject it. That is our message. It is a message of grace, and it is centred upon the Lord Jesus Christ.

GEOFF THOMAS